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Aldermen candidates address development at forum

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The pace of development within the city was the primary topic last week during a Candidate Forum sponsored by the Germantown Area Chamber of Commerce.

Three candidates for aldermen and two mayoral candidates sat on stage in the Houston High School auditorium on Wednesday and discussed growth in Germantown after citing their leadership credentials.

Richard Ransom of Local 24 News served as the moderator.

Scott Sanders, who is running against Brian White for the seat of Position 1 Alderman, noted that he retired after 32 years with the U.S. Marshall service specifically to run for office.

“I wanted to be a leader in the local community,” he noted.

Sanders said he believes that the city is “at a crossroads.”

“I see the things that my wife and I moved to Germantown for slowly slipping away,” he said. “The city is changing a little bit as far as growth and the way the city is appearing as we drive our streets and walk our neighborhoods. I want to be a positive change and bring a new perspective.”

White, who owns Century Financial and previously served as the chairman of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes to “continue the great momentum that we have in our city.”

“Our city is changing,” he noted. “When I think about development in our city I have to go back to our city leaders 20-plus years ago who had a vision for where we are today.”

White noted that unique retail establishments like Saddle Creek and the Apple Store exist in Germantown because of thoughtful development over the years.

He added that mixed-use developments like Thornwood are necessary to create tax revenue for the city and the school system.

“We are landlocked,” he said. “We have to have revenue from somewhere and its going to have to come from careful, sustainable growth.”

Incumbent Alderman Mary Anne Gibson, who also serves as vice mayor, said her years of service on the Shelby County School Board inspired her to seek a more localized position within the city four years ago.

“My city needed me for that experience,” she noted.

Jeff Brown, who is challenging Gibson for Position 2 Alderman, was out of the country and could not attend the forum.

Gibson said the city must seek “responsible development” in order to “sustain our schools, sustain our public safety and all the things that make us special and unique.”

“We have to be able to have a diverse tax base,” she said. “To do that, we look at our central business district, the nodes that are around the city, whether that is the Western Gateway or Forest Hill Heights. We look at those commercial areas where we can grow in such a way that does not put our tax burden on our citizens.”

When Ransom asked if the city’s Smart Growth plan was in fact “smart,” Sanders said he questioned if it was necessary in a city like Germantown.

“Smart growth was meant for blighted downtown areas to revitalize,” he said. “Germantown doesn’t have that. As smart growth has evolved in Germantown we begin to see higher densities. It dictates that these buildings are moved right out on the roadways next to the sidewalk. I don’t believe that’s Germantown.”

Sanders said he supported “thoughtful, measured growth.”

“We need to step back and take a thoughtful look before we approve any more hotels, apartments or mixed-use developments,” he continued. ask the citizens if that’s what they really want.”

White said he believes that “smart growth is sustainable growth.”

“We don’t have areas to annex,” he said. “We have to maximize the use of the areas that we have. We have to be very careful with how we choose to develop. We have to be careful with the return on investment.

“Sales tax revenue is extremely important,” he continued. “If we want people to come here to shop we have to develop carefully so that, when they do, they’re spending money here and that tax revenue stays here. We’ve got five business nodes that we have to be careful with. I’m not for taking in residential areas and making them business areas.”

Gibson believes the principles of smart growth “make communities come together” by creating a “sense of place and a sense of purpose.”

“Whether it is shopping or dining together,” she said. “Breaking bread, that speaks to me.”

Gibson said she is aware that the community “looks different.”

“I grew up on Forest Hill and Dogwood,” she noted. “Forest Hill looks different today than it did then. Germantown Parkway looks different.

“We are a different community now than we were 40 years ago,” she continued. “We are not a tree-lined city any longer. The challenge that we have would be to make certain that we are moving forward and we are continuing to grow wisely, responsibly and sustainably.”

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